Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Economist's Outlook for Area Still Rosy

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Economist's Outlook for Area Still Rosy

Article excerpt

Byline: Karen Brune Mathis

Every time Wachovia senior economist Mark Vitner returns to Jacksonville, his forecast gets better. He's been here twice the past two weeks and he's coming back Tuesday.

We must be in for one heck of a run.

Vitner said this week that Northeast Florida "certainly ended 2005 on a strong note" and that it "has a great deal of momentum going into 2006."

No stranger to Jacksonville, Vitner worked for the former Jacksonville-based Barnett Banks Inc. for almost nine years before joining Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia in 1993. He visits Northeast Florida on business about 18 times a year and is scheduled to visit Florida cities 16 times during January and February.

Because of his travels and knowledge of the statewide economy, Vitner's forecasts carry weight. That's why it's worth our while to know what he's saying about the area. He also carries the message to other parts of the state and nation, meaning Jacksonville might get a few added boosts of respect. Here's what he says:

Job growth in metro Jacksonville (Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties) "accelerated" to a better than 4 percent annual rate during the last quarter of 2005. Payrolls for employers other than farms grew by 16,500 jobs. Of course, the state revises its numbers, and Vitner expects that. He expects the state will end up saying the area gained 18,000 to 20,000 jobs last year and he predicts 18,000 more this year. This signals a strong economy.

Unemployment, which calculates the percentage of people who say they are looking for work, "has fallen fairly steadily to 3.7 percent," he said. That's not a record low, but it's close to it, and considering that he figures the metro area added 35,000 residents last year, the rate indicates healthy employment.

Stocks of companies based in Jacksonville or with a large Northeast Florida presence are collectively on the rise. …

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